Let me hear you CHEER! For a sport that was once, well, relegated to the sidelines, cheerleading has seen a major growth spurt over the last 10 years in Woodbury. Thanks to a dedicated and talented group of coaches, the cheer programs at Woodbury schools have grown into some of the most successful in Minnesota, and even in the country.
We chatted with Woodbury’s cohort of coaches to learn more about cheerleading’s growing popularity, their passion for the sport and what it takes to create a top-notch squad. Ready? Okay!
Cheerleading’s Family Tree
In 2001, when Elle Lambert started sixth grade at St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic School, she already had a few years of club cheering under her belt—and she was itching for more. “It’s different when you cheer for a school…it’s more congenial,” says Elle’s mom, Cindy Lambert. “It’s more about team building, and I wanted that for her at the middle-school age.”
Cindy Lambert was approached by a St. Ambrose teacher about starting a cheerleading squad for a group of interested middle school girls, and the rest is history. Lambert spent the next three years building a top-notch sideline squad, which cheered at school sporting events, and quickly added a competition element, too. “The things we were doing as a sideline squad were as good [as the private competition squads],” recalls Lambert. “I thought, there’s no reason we couldn’t try that.”
In an interesting twist, most of the city’s high school cheer success can trace its roots back to St. Ambrose. When East Ridge High School opened in 2009, Cindy Lambert accepted a new position there as head cheerleading coach. Tami Stauffacher, who succeeded Lambert at St. Ambrose, moved on herself to coach at Woodbury High School just a few years later. Soon, both East Ridge and Woodbury Highs were drawing on the strong St. Ambrose cheer tradition. “The St. Ambrose program really gained a prestige under [Lambert and Stauffacher],” says current St. Ambrose coach Megan Rennerfeldt, “so we definitely want to continue that.”
The Rise of Cheer
So what’s the secret behind cheerleading’s recent popularity? Woodbury’s coaches attribute a lot of the growth to a renewed focus on athleticism. For decades, cheerleading wasn’t seen as a “real sport,” says Cindy Lambert. But that’s no longer the case. “I think we can do anything very competitively and take anything seriously…Cheerleading can be loved and taken seriously as much as [any other sport].”
Lambert made sure to treat her cheer squad at East Ridge like any other high school sports team. “Everyone had to come to practice in the same uniform,” she says, “the way the baseball team has to wear the same uniform. I wanted them to feel like they were teammates.”
“There’s a lot of gymnastics involved,” Stauffacher says. “As the sport has developed, it’s become much more athletic. Girls really want to get involved when they see how athletic it can be.” And success seems to beget more success, she adds. “When you have a strong team, you attract a lot of kids. [These days] there are more and more teams, even across the Twin Cities.”
Growing a Program
Woodbury and East Ridge high schools, offering both sideline and competitive squads, are now able to draw on several years of continued success: trips to state and national championships (WHS qualified for a national championship, but didn’t attend for financial reasons), dozens of interested cheerleaders who try out each year and increased attention from local media. But what about cheer programs that are just getting started? They’re finding plenty to celebrate, too.
Stacie Hauer is the head cheer coach at New Life Academy in Woodbury. New Life’s cheer program has existed off-and-on for over a decade, since Hauer herself was a cheerleader there, but has picked up speed in the last few years.
As cheerleaders start learning their sport at a much younger age—at a middle school program like St. Ambrose’s, for example—they arrive at high school with a stronger skill set than in years past, Hauer says. She hopes to add a competition squad in addition to her sideline squad over the next few years. “There are so many fundamentals that have to be learned before you get to the competitive level, which is for more experienced girls,” Hauer says. “We’re being encouraging and supportive…always trying to lift each other up. And that’s really what a cheerleader is supposed to do.”
Rennerfeldt of St. Ambrose echoes that. “I love coaching these junior-high girls, because they’re so new at everything. They watch the high school cheerleaders, and they are in awe of these big girls who get to do these amazing stunts. They idolize them. My job at this age is to keep that enthusiasm going and start at the ground level with instruction and technique.”
Commitment and Confidence
Beyond the competitions and the accolades, Woodbury’s cheerleaders are gaining something even more important: a sense of teamwork and confidence that will last them a lifetime. “Whatever the accomplishment is, it’s the group that accomplished something,” Stauffacher says. “We hear so much in the news about bullying…and to see how incredibly supportive and kind and considerate [the girls] can be, it’s just amazing to watch.”
Hauer emphasizes the importance of practice with her New Life squad. “We talk about the three Ps: practice, progression and then perfection,” she says. “Sometimes the girls just want to skip practice and progression—they want to be perfect right away. In life, you take it one step at a time.”
Looking to the Future
Remember Elle Lambert, the St. Ambrose sixth grader with big cheer dreams? When she graduated from Woodbury High School in 2008; in 2009, she started assisting her mom Cindy with coaching duties. When Cindy retired as head coach in 2012, Elle stepped in to fill her shoes. The mother-daughter team has led the squad to three Minnesota state championships over the past few years, and the East Ridge varsity team finished seventh—out of a whopping 51 teams—at the 2013 national championships in Orlando, Florida. Both the junior varsity and varsity teams from East Ridge attended the Universal Cheerleaders’ Association (UCA) nationals in February. “It’s a huge thing,” says Elle Lambert. “We’re a very well-known team around the country now. People watch us online to figure out how to [design] their routines based on ours. It’s so flattering.” And these young women are using skills that translate beyond the mat, she says. “Cheerleaders learn to be responsible, resourceful people, and respectful to each other and to themselves.”
So what do our all-star cheer coaches love most about the sport in Woodbury? Their answer is unanimous: the spirit of community. “Even though there’s a lot of cheer in Woodbury, we don’t have rivalries with the other schools,” Lambert says simply. “I don’t know if it’s a Minnesota thing or a Woodbury thing, but everybody is so supportive of each other.” Now that is something to cheer about.
An All-American, All-State Cheerleader
Allison Stauffacher has had an exciting year in the cheerleading world. The Woodbury High School junior was selected for the UCA’s all-American cheer team at a UCA cheer camp: an elite squad made up of only the very best cheerleaders from across the country. “It’s a really big honor,” says Stauffacher.
And Stauffacher has had success a little closer to home, too. In September, she was selected for the Minnesota all-state competitive cheer squad. “You audition to be [selected] for the squad,” Stauffacher explains. “I tried out for the competition squad…You got to create a routine…and there were 12 cheerleaders chosen.” The all-state squad performed in January at the state cheer competition at the Xcel Energy Center.
Accolades aside, Stauffacher just loves to cheer. “It’s been a part of my life for a really long time,” she says. “It’s helped me grow as a person and become a leader…I’ve made friends that I have a lot in common with.”
Continuing to Cheer
Just like Elle Lambert, many former local cheerleaders have gone on to post-high school success with cheer:
East Ridge graduates
Anna Lee – University of Minnesota
Bethany Loyd – University of North Dakota
Hannah Lipps – Drake University
Mikayla Mittl and Elena DeLosSantos – University of Wisconsin-Stout
Carly Kelly – Coe College
Megan Musil – staff instructor at Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA)
Sara Mercado – staff instructor at UCA and assistant coach at East Ridge
Shelby Stensgard – assistant coach at East Ridge, cheered at University of Minnesota
Woodbury High graduates
Jessica Martin – mascot at St. Catherine University
Ciara Wolford – Green Bay Packers
New Life Academy graduate
Lydia Dodds – University of Northwestern, St. Paul